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Sheriff-elect tops off win by getting married

Nancy Ortwerth had hardly gotten over the high of being elected Pierce County Sheriff when she and her fiancé flew off to Jamaica and got married.

On Nov. 7, county voters chose the 40-year-old DARE officer over incumbent Sheriff Everett Muhlhausen by a vote of 7,832 to 6,108. On Nov. 25, she and Jason Hove were married.

"It's still hard to believe," she said of her election.

"I'm doing wonderful--I think," said Hove Friday, reacting to her whirlwind month.

Defeating an incumbent isn't easy. But Hove, who measures just five feet tall, tackled the challenge with enthusiasm and organization.

"It was a whole new adventure," said Hove, who had never run for office before. She spent about $8,000--mostly her own money--but attributes most of her success to family, friends, teachers and "quite a few" coworkers who campaigned for her.

"They coordinated themselves. I did not ask any of my coworkers to help. They volunteered," said Hove.

At the first strategy meeting, people with specialties in different areas divided up tasks from developing newspaper and radio ads to creating a web site.

"I basically stood back and let them go," said Hove.

As for the other sheriff's department workers, "I just think they believed it was time for a change."

She added, "A lot of them put a lot of thought into it before they took the big step."

In the process, said Hove, she believes department morale rose: "It was neat to see them come together."

While others campaigned for her, Hove also spent evenings and weekends before both the primary and the general election campaigning door to door.

"I'm not a door-knocker...I feel like I'm invading their space," said Hove of her reluctance to disturb people at home.

"There was no negative feeling out there whatsoever. It seemed like they just wanted information," she said.

She admitted to running into resistance from people who wondered if a woman can handle the job of sheriff.

"I'm use to that. I knew that card would be out there," said Hove, who had already faced those doubts as a woman in a male-dominated field. "A lot of the older generation didn't think a female could handle the job."

"We actually changed a few minds, so that was kind of cool," she said.

While she said she is open to all the training and input she can get, at this point Hove has no plans for radical changes. She is signed up for a week-long "new chiefs and new sheriffs" class in Madison in January.

"Right now, I'm focusing on getting in, getting set, getting the feel of where things have been and where they're going," she said.

She has been meeting with people in other county departments and in the sheriff's department, getting their input.

"I want to talk to everybody. They've got some good ideas too," said Hove.

Listening is a major part of her plan, both for herself and the department. She hopes that, by developing the public's trust and listening, the department can help the community identify, respond to and solve problems.

Since the 2007 budget is already set, Hove said she has a few months breathing room before having to prepare a department budget.

She said she plans to work closely with county board members to educate them about the unique needs of law enforcement.

Her ideas for controlling costs range from such simple tactics as looking for competitive prices for uniforms to the more difficult task of identifying overtime "hot spots" and making better use of part-time officers.

But her main focus will be on improving morale and redeveloping a sense of team work.

"You just get a lot more accomplished when you have a group that works together," she said.

Hove is an Ellsworth High School graduate, holds an associate degree from Hibbing (Minn.) Community College and earned a degree in law enforcement from Hibbing Technical College.

She got her Wisconsin law enforcement training at Chippewa Valley Technical College and started working for the Ellsworth Police Department 17 years ago.

She is currently the county's DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer, a position she will miss.

Hove would normally have spent spring semester in the Ellsworth School District. She said she will have to give up her work with the younger children, but plans to finish out the semester with the fifth-graders, who will graduate from the program this spring.

"Hopefully we can keep it going," said Hove. "It's the only proactive thing we do."

While becoming sheriff has been a long-time goal, it wasn't her first dream.

"Actually as a child I wanted to be a doctor," said Hove. While in high school, she planned to become either a doctor or a paramedic.

After graduation, she was working as a bartender when a detective for the Cook County (Minn.) Sheriff's Department persuaded her law enforcement would be an interesting field.

He told her that, with the proper training, she could work as a dispatcher, jailer, investigator or patrol officer.

"It wasn't going to be a repetitive boring job," said Hove summarizing the attraction.

Her marriage to Jason Hove had a similar element of luck. Though he lived in Esdaile and she'd known his parents for years, Nancy, who had never been married, didn't meet Jason until eight months ago.

His mother suggested the two would be a good match and arranged a date.

"We met last March and just kind of knew right away," said the new Mrs. Hove. "I never thought anything like that could happen."